Longest Night

21 Dec
posted by Farvartish

posted by Farvartish

 

 

 

Tonight, we will pass through the longest night of the year.

We will regain a tiny bit of light, with each new day.

 

 

The end of 2013 seems to have opened a thousand little doors of terror inside me.  This is the first time I am “properly” developing a play.  That means I’m not jumping right into a production process but taking time to write, re-write, show it to others, share my thoughts, and hear the words read aloud. It’s brought me face to face with many of my feelings of inadequacy, superiority, futility, and desperation.  It’s been a long night in the life of this artist.

(What corner of your life needs a tiny bit of light?  Where are those dry, cracked places that can be softened by the heat, smoothed over by warm touch?)

Tree of Seeds by Stedroy Cleghorne

Tree of Seeds image by Stedroy Cleghorne

 

I’ve just returned from London where I was able to attend one of the two readings my play was offered.

Hearing the words read aloud brought clarity to what isn’t working and offered me a sharp view into what needs to change.  Sharp and pointy and slightly painful, but that’s my own inner critic.  The world outside my head offered ripe fruit and juicy seeds to chew on.  It reminds of the thoughts in my previous post about how people, human beings, are the most sustainable and valuable resource we have.

Sharing my misshapen, oozing, little work-in-progress has been a magical window into kindness and consideration.  People across the globe are offering their soft hands, their light touch, to guide this piece along.  Friends and family rallied to help me get to London.  The cast and crew in London offered their talent, their time, and their best thinking  to help  move the work forward.  I returned home with over 60 pieces of paper, audience feedback forms, that give me strength and energy and new thoughts!  And, there are a few theater companies waiting for the new script.

In Central and West Asia, people celebrate Shab-e-Yalda (solstice) by staying up all night together, eating red and orange and yellow foods, especially pomegranate.  They make wishes and recite the poetry of Hafez to each other.  You are supposed to open to any page in a book of his poems and read the first thing you see.  That excerpt is meant to offer some guidance, some insight to you.  Here’s what I turned to today:

“…And the hundred graceful movements
Your body now makes each time
The wind, children and love come near.”
― حافظThe Subject Tonight Is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz

Thank you to everyone who helped me to move along with grace this past year. In the darkness, your hands, your voice, propelled me forward.

The warm wind blows up the edges on the thin grey shroud.  You can reach up and pull it down now.

It’s time.

Happy Shab-e-Yalda, Happy Solstice.

 

Advertisements

On Thanksgiving, Giving Up

29 Nov

After co-leading a wonderful weekend workshop looking at the ways we internalize our defeats and let oppressive messages stop us from going after our deepest desires, I am still asking myself “do I have the courage to be happy?”

That depends. 

Go, don't go?

Go, don’t go?

Do I know what makes me most happy and am I able to see it and feel it clearly? By clearly I mean am I able to see past the layers; the media images of happiness, the broken record of social messages about happiness, the fear that covers any impulse to disbelieve the imposed voices.

While the U.S. is meditating on thanks and having (we talk about giving thanks but isn’t it always focused on what we have — a series of things on a checklist — like a Christmas list?)  I’m walking away from the deeply held notion that I need more money to do what I most want. 

Says it all

Says it all

 

It’s a big intention and it isn’t easy as an artist (and as a raised working class immigrant woman).  I have a clear understanding of how most artists are devalued, ignored, not seen as having importance in society unless their work comes with a huge price tag or media fanfare. 

Art is our human heritage and our birthright.  It goes beyond economics.  In fact, human beings are drawn to art not from a place of money and commerce but from a place of human curiosity, zest, emotion and connection.  Values which are necessary for human growth, social understanding and transformation. 

Friends are so good.

Friends are so good.


These values, are given little monetary value and we need to examine why.  More importantly, why do we go along with it?

Most of how we assign monetary value has little to do with what we truly treasure.  Human connection is what makes much of life bearable, livable. Our relationships (to each other and the planet) give us the sustenance we need to blossom and grow.  Yet we spend so much of our time cultivating relationships with things – thinking that this hamster wheel will get us to a better place. 

What could we think of if we stopped thinking in terms of money?

What could we think of if we stopped thinking in terms of money?

We end up worn out and alone, frustrated at ourselves for not following our intuition, for not acting on the knowledge that our liberation doesn’t sit at the edge of a dollar bill.

So I’ve decided to give up. I must live my values.  I’m giving up on holding back my energy, time, love, and creativity from myself and others because there isn’t money attached to that exchange.  I’m going to work on cultivating relationships with people who will make me a better person, I am going to think big no matter what!

I’m in the process of writing a new play, and somehow it’s blooming.

The postcard for my play

The postcard for my play

Being held up by others who are putting their creative minds into a project they believe in, for no money.  I am grateful for that.  For human reciprocity, sharing, community, and love. 

May you all give up.  May you have the courage to be happy.

Love,
Kayhan


Go, don't go?
Go, don’t go?

 

 

 

The postcard for my play

The postcard for my play

Circles

20 Jun

I haven’t written an update for months. I’ve wanted to, but every time I sat down to share a thought, or an observation, I was acutely aware that something was incomplete. And so, I said to myself, why offer a fleeting, shredded little thing when you can gather up your thoughts for something substantial? Little did I know, that the substantial is made from the tattered bits and pieces.

Image

Fresh catch.

 

 

Some of what I learned was really to appreciate myself, my mind, my smarts.   I started to notice the little inner voices that would tell me I couldn’t, I shouldn’t, it will never work.  But reality was filled with space, room for me to do exactly what I dreamed up.  That contradiction, between outside and inside my head, was just what I needed in order to recognize and silence those voices of doubt. 

Image

 

 

 

 

 

Through living as fully as I could, I was offered pieces of myself – pieces that peer back at me as I peer at them, initiating an act of uncovering.  It makes me think of revelation not as some passive gift that is offered from on high, but an endeavor that has to be initiated and carried out. Revelation comes when you push the limitations of your own mind, a new world is revealed as old thinking is moved aside and deeper knowledge is allowed in.

 

This work doesn’t necessarily need stillness and quiet – it can come through lots of interaction, stimulation and, sometimes, from being in a totally different context.  Though I suppose part of the work of reflecting is just that, recognizing your own mind amid a great deal of information. Recognizing how you see, how you get in the way of seeing and how you fit within a larger picture.  I am grateful to have had 8 months to hone the art of seeing, and to gain an appreciation of my place in this world.

ImageI am grateful to all the people who offered me kindness, sweetness, great food, and a a bit of their perspective on the world.  I look forward to completing my play, having it produced, to writing for other projects in India, and to running theater trainings and community projects in the U.S.  I’ll be MCing the Women in Islam awards this month in NYC, I’ll be in Little Rock, Arkansas next month, and I’ll be back in India come September to offer support to an International school in Bombay on their arts programs and curriculum.  So, the story continues.  Thanks for reading and let’s catch up sometime.

Crafting History

17 Jan

122a

Sometimes I wonder if everything I’ve thought of, everything I’m thinking of, has been thought before.  Often, it’s in bouts of depression and my conclusion is that I’m probably useless and unoriginal.  (Yes, I am being a bit dramatic but that’s me!)

These last few months, however, when I reflect on the originality of my being (how embarrassing) I have been grateful for all the thinking that has come before me.

At 93, Nadja is still making torans. She shows me some of her original sketches in her book.

At 93, Nadja is still making torans. She shows me some of her sketches.

Millions of people, doing the best they could, have lived lives and laid the groundwork for me to do what I do.  Being immersed in the world of craft, it is starting to make more and more sense that originality isn’t highly prized.  It’s nice, but it isn’t the point.

As I’ve been learning how to make a toran (a beaded wall hanging that is strung in a doorway) it amazed me that instinctively I said I’d prefer to follow a pattern that someone has done before.  As my elders have tried to show me new techniques or ways I could change my pattern my stock answer has been “I just want to do it this way until I understand”.

Mani strings the thread needed to weave the beaded toran.

Mani strings the thread needed to weave the beaded toran.

Look at me, I'm learning!

Look at me, I’m learning!

Craft is about following knowledge, putting together history and the information that has come before you.  Piecing together meaning – understanding – through practice.  And only when one understands the story, the hows and whys, can one add a unique element to that story.

 

Making a toran in a traditional Parsi baugh (housing development), surrounded by people who know and appreciate the craft, who display their own torans, who have pieces of the past to complete my puzzle is a unique and vital part of learning the craft.  During the days I could wander the halls and see the different designs and aesthetics at play. I came to see what people appreciated and wanted to project in front of their homes.  People who walked by and saw me at my work recognized what I was doing and inquired about it.

My first little scallops complete!

My first little scallops complete!

Craft is not simply the creation of a product.  It is an assembly of knowledge, belief, skill, context and imagination applied and developed over time to create significant, living things.  Embedded in the process of craft are a multitude of social functions from religious practice to identity formation to relationship building to exercising power to visualizing the future.

The materials used, the process of work, the relationship of craftspeople to their community, the standing of the community within a larger society are all interconnected elements and the relationships constructed between these elements fuel the vitality and development of a craft tradition.  Craft has a soul and craft creates soul.  In order for that soul to thrive all these connections need to be maintained with dignity – human and environmental.

010a

A young woman trains in block printing techniques at the Weaver’s Service Center in Bombay.

 

 

Hey lady, what's your story?

Hey lady, what’s your story?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For craft revivalists and preservationists, the challenge is how to hold this soul and help it do well.  Beyond the economic realm, what responsibility does the revival community have to help heal the social ruptures (oppressions) that have caused the decline and disappearance of craft traditions and the marginalization of craft workers?  How to construct a holistic view of craft revival that honors the complex social web that is at the core of craft work that goes beyond the houses of commerce?

I don’t have any answers but I am eager to follow the threads as I delve deeper into the complex and beautiful world of craft and it’s importance within all societies.

 

Saris getting ready for a steam which will set the color of the block prints.

Saris getting ready for a steam which will set the color of the block prints.

A block printed sari in process.

A sari laid out for block printing.

Aerial Roots

22 Oct

The famous banyan tree in India has aerial roots.  That means small seedlings growing on its branches send down vine-like extensions that upon hitting dirt, take root and anchor the tree.  If left unchecked, a single banyan can expand into a maze-like thicket of its own creation.  A tree intertwined around another tree, creating shadow trees.

I’m living in a similar metaphoric spiral right now.  Thoughts shooting straight downward, leading to confusion, leading to pause, leading to insights, leading to growth.

 

 

I’m like the little guy at the bottom of the illustration; feeling my way through, tripping over the bumps.

The people I meet, my family and their friends are like the tree – patient and generous.

 

At my worst, I feel wholly unprepared to spend the next 8 months here.  I feel like everything I brought with me is useless, my miniscule language skills are useless and I stick out no matter where I go.  Though when I get that low, something happens to reassure me that I’m fine. Like the two big men who ended up sitting across from me on my 16 hour train ride from Mumbai to New Delhi.  I was a little nervous about sharing an overnight train berth surrounded by men so I was sitting there trying to look stoic, listening to my headphones.  I soon realized that they weren’t speaking in Hindi and I recognized many of their words.  In fact, it sounded like Farsi.  So I started speaking to them in broken Farsi.  It turns out they are from Kabul, here in India on some business.

What’s with the pole in this cab? I have a hundred questions.

One of the guys had traveled all over Iran.  In New Delhi, they carried my bags off the train, called my driver to tell him where we were standing and waited with me until he came.

 

It’s been a roller coaster and my knuckles are white from gripping the bars tight.  (On a side note, I was talking to someone and I referred to myself as brown.  She said, “No you’re not, you’re very white”.  This led me to reply, “Trust me, in America I’m not white”.)

Back to me and the banyan tree and feeling rootless amid a forest of roots.  What is the difference between feeling lost and feeling rootless?  Does being rootless lead one to be lost? What does being lost lead to? Liberation or nothingness?  Why such angst after only a week?  I’m not just dislocated, I’m anxious about the fact that I feel dislocated.  This coupled with the energy and pace of Bombay can make someone go mad.

To give you an example, getting to a destination on foot means you have to first negotiate the traffic – cars, scooters, motorbikes, pedestrians, dogs, oxen and men with hand carts loaded with goods.  You then have to negotiate the rivers of people walking on the sidewalk and spilling on to the gully since the sidewalk is covered with hawkers’ stalls and improvised huts.

A relatively mellow street near my aunt’s home. It’s the navrata season where the various aspects of the goddess are honored.

When you get close to the location you have to puzzle over an amazing kaleidoscope of signs, old and new in all colors and shapes, attached to the building in all directions to find the place you are looking for.

But good luck finding a place to stand and read the signs because you’re never out of the traffic, you’re always in it, trying to hold on to your own singular desire like a lifebuoy being steadily shaken and drenched by the waves of all the other human beings who want something too.

And the tension is palpable.  The middle and upper classes demand things now, quickly, to my liking.  The working and poor argue, steal, stall and walk out.

Complexity everywhere.

There is a great tension between obligation and freedom; sacrifice and care.  Dedicated family members denounce one another when things get hard.  Educated women verbally (and physically) abuse servants to get out their resentment.  Selflessness and dedication meet control and sadism in strange ways.

Another gift came in the form of a book by my friend and brilliant author Arshia Sattar.  “Lost Loves – Exploring Rama’s Anguish” is a reading of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, as a love story.  I’ve read the first few chapters and one thing that stood out was the thought that Rama was a god who oftentimes didn’t remember, didn’t recognize that he was a god.  He was living as a human, but that didn’t negate his divinity.  And so, we are we all in a way.  We can’t recognize our own divine light nor the light of others and so we battle on this earth for a little place to stand.  A footprint in the sand.

I am learning to see what I am looking at and not to make snap judgments.  Just like I learned how to approach an address I will learn how to approach a culture.  To see it as it is, not as I think it should be.  And like the banyan tree, my roots will continue to grow in many directions.

Here’s an image I created after being inspired by “Lost Loves”